Hiroshi "Mickey" Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten, Inc.
@hmikitani_e
Photo: Free voice and messaging service Viber saw revenue rise 80% in the first quarter of this year compared to last year.

Our free voice and messaging service Viber is much-loved by more than 800 million users around the world and, since acquisition in 2014, we have been more focused on growth than on profitability, but in recent months we have made some changes. We decided to set in motion a series of big and small improvements, including hiring a new CEO and finding ways to increase revenue, not just on the telecommunications side of the business but in content, like advertisements and sticker sales.

Now it’s clear those improvements have had an effect. In the first quarter of this year Viber’s revenue was up 80% compared to last year – with much of the lift coming from content. The service is now clearly on the road to profitability.

In business, the big changes get all the press but, in actual fact, a lot comes down to small improvements – and often they take courage. There is always the chance that some loyal customers who love the product the way it is might be alienated. For instance, ad content in a messaging service can be a very delicate balancing act.

But this is a fear that must be overcome. To be a global innovator, you need to be willing to take the risk and embrace the work that follows.

Viber has found ways to increase revenue not just on the telecommunications side of the business but in content, like advertisements and sticker sales.

Viber has found ways to increase revenue not just on the telecommunications side of the business but in content, like advertisements and sticker sales.

This is what drives me to encourage the teams in my company to persistently pursue small improvements. It’s my belief that great things are often not achieved in single great leaps, but in constant incremental steps  – or “0.1% improvements.” When you realize that you won’t always be No. 1 at the outset, but that you can still get there through doggedly going after those 0.1% improvements, you can see the value of getting started, whether it be a new business, a new career or simply a new project. If you sit on the sidelines, waiting for the right chance and preparing for everything to be perfect from the start, someone else will inevitably get out there ahead of you.

We did this with our delivery business called Rakubin. In this service, we promised 20-minute delivery within metropolitan Tokyo on approximately 450 items, including convenience store goods, such as soft drinks, alcoholic beverages and snacks, and daily necessities like detergent, toilet paper and diapers, some top-ranking products on Rakuten Ichiba and the sweets and coffee available at Rakuten CAFE.

We launched an exciting and innovative service. But the work was not done. We learned from customers that the 20-minute delivery service was compelling, but not necessarily for all of the items we had initially listed. They also turned out to be particularly interested in 20-minute delivery from local restaurants. And so we continued on a consistent cycle of small improvements, adjusting the merchandise list and gradually recruiting more local restaurant partners.

You can also see this thinking at work in technology innovators such as Apple. Customers know that the products they love, such as the iPhone, are in constant development as designers search for new ways to further improve the experience.

Not all products or services are going to be perfect – or profitable – on launch, but that should not stop us from innovating and continuing to improve to reach our goal. You can always win back the customer. You can’t let fear stop you from innovating.